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SWON News: SWON Weekly

Be a Hero. Draw a Map.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014  
Posted by: Nathan Swartzendruber
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I’m still troubled by an NPR interview I heard four months ago with Emily Veltus, a health educator who’s working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone.

Her base of operations was an Ebola hospital in the region. At the time of the interview, the hospital had seen 204 confirmed Ebola cases, 53 survivors and 110 deaths. “Each time we bring a survivor home, we hug the person in front of their family and friends to show they’re not a risk. And we like to get the family together and take a photo with them. We have a wall of survivors in our office.”

While the 2 Ebola deaths in the U.S. have received lots of attention, it’s difficult to make sense of over 6,000 deaths and over 17,000 Ebola cases in West Africa. The number of cases seems to still be accelerating. They need more help.

One of the challenges of working in that region is the lack of current maps. Maps help health workers travel, but they also help visualize where people live, estimate population sizes, and anticipate routes that people (and the disease) might take. You can help draw the maps in West Africa.

OpenStreetMap, an open-source online project, lets anyone add to and edit their map of the world. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team coordinates with Doctors Without Borders and other organizations to identify needs and the U.S. government and private companies to provide satellite imagery for crisis locations across the world, including West Africa.

Using your web browser, you can trace roads and buildings in the satellite images. To date, over 2,500 people have edited over 12 million map objects for the Ebola mapping project. They’re making progress, but there’s still lots more work to do. You can help by learning how to map from OpenStreetMap or MapGive. In about an hour, you can be ready to edit a HOT Task.

  • Nathan Swartzendruber, SWON Technology Educator

Host a Mapping Party

A library is a great place to teach people how to become OpenStreetMap contributors. Provide a group, from teenagers to adults, with computers, an internet connection and a bit of instruction, and they’ll be off and editing.

Nathan has done several online trainings and logged several hours of mapping. He doesn’t profess to be an expert, but he’s eager to share what he knows and, if you’re interested, lead a mapping party at your library. Contact Nathan at or (513) 751–4422 to learn more.

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